In House Fermentation, How Your Restaurant Can Get Started
Fermentation is the current darling of the culinary community. Fermented food has experienced a real renaissance in the past few years. It has been popping up on menus across the country. Sometimes, it’s been popping up in some of the most unexpected places and in some of the most unexpected foods. Enamored with the flavors and textures they are able to build in their dishes, chefs across the country and the world are rediscovering and subsequently falling in love with the process of fermentation all over again.
We’re breaking down the process of fermentation and the safest way to start fermenting foods for your restaurant.
Fermentation is a process that, with a little effort and advance planning, can allow you to completely change the impact of the ingredients on a plate. This allows you to build up complex flavor and some reputed health benefits.
So how does it work? Fermentation is the process of microorganisms (such as yeast or bacteria) eating the carbohydrates in food. This transforms them into alcohols, acids, heat, and carbon dioxide. We eat many fermented foods on a regular basis. For example: cheese, wine, beer, chocolate, the list is virtually endless.
The process of fermentation can be as simple or as elaborate as the chef desires it to be. Some types of fermentation require specialized equipment, and a good deal of know-how, but you can ferment many vegetables with nothing more than salt, water, and a little bit of time. This makes fermentation a very easy and approachable method of processing ingredients.
How to Ferment
To begin, start by slicing up your vegetable of choice, keep your end goal in mind when doing this. How do you want the ingredient to look on the plate? What are you pairing it with? Then slice into the desired size and shape to meet your needs. Transfer the cut vegetable into a non-reactive container and add a salt brine. We recommend starting with a brine of 2.5%. This ratio works well on a wide range of vegetables, but feel free to experiment as you go and find the golden ratio for the foods you’re interested in preserving and serving. Be sure to add enough brine to cover the vegetables, keeping them fully submerged by using a weight. Cover with a cheesecloth, this protects the vegetables from unwelcome pests and stray debris, yet still allows gases to escape, and escape they must or you risk your container exploding.
Doing it Safely
Fermentation opens up a whole new world of flavor lending new life to tired dishes and inspiring brand new ones. The problem with fermentation, from a restaurant’s perspective, is that it flies directly in the face of HACCP code. The rules we are taught in our ServSafe classes on holding food at safe temperatures for certain times is thrown out the window when it comes to fermentation. While you can certainly ferment in a refrigerator for certain products, it is most effective at room temperature. It’s best right in the middle of what they call “the danger zone.” This is where pathogens thrive and foodborne illnesses begin. So how does your restaurant begin fermenting foods without breaking health codes?
Fermentation is a safe practice that has been done for years, the lactic acid that is produced in the process of fermenting foods is a natural pathogen killer keeping foods that have been sitting around for months or years totally safe for consumption. However, health code regulations don’t factor this in when creating their holding times for cut vegetables. To be on the safe side we recommend contacting your local health department and laying out your plans for them. Work with them to prepare a HACCP plan that they will approve of. This honest and preemptive conversation with the health department will begin an open line of communication that will ultimately help you and your restaurant create the foods you want to offer and your guests want to order.